Is there anyone around who doesn't know that the next release of Ubuntu Linux, 9.10 (Karmic Koala) is due out tomorrow? I doubt it, and even if there were they wouldn't be reading this, so I'll just forge ahead.
I don't intend to add my voice to the chorus singing the praises of the new release. What I would like to do is take a quick look at a few simple things that can go a long way in making the upgrade easier.
First, and this is very important, DO NOT DOWNLOAD FROM ANY OF THE "SECRET PRE-RELEASE LINKS" that have started to pop up in a few places. This is something new to me, I haven't seen it with any previous Ubuntu release, or any other Linux release for that matter. I suppose it is a good thing, a sign of how anxious people are to get this release. However, from what I can tell (and I have followed a few of them), they are nothing more than links to a recent Ubuntu "daily build". First, the daily builds are NOT the final release, and there is no way of knowing if they will be different in any significant way, but they certainly could be. Second, in many cases, after the download has been bounced between any number of "unofficial" systems, you can't even be sure of what version you are getting, how recent of a daily build it is, or anything else about it for that matter. If you can't wait, if you absolutely have to have it right now, at least go and get it directly from the Ubuntu daily build download.
Second, remember that the Ubuntu LiveCD image can now be copied to a USB stick, and then booted and installed from that. If your computer will boot from a USB drive, this will save you having to burn it to a CD. Assuming you are already running Ubuntu, the utility to copy the image to USB media is in the Administration menu. If you are changing from Windows to Ubuntu (congratulations), there is a free Windows utility to do the USB copy, check the Ubuntu download page.
Third, in addition to backing up your data before you install it (I know everyone was going to do that, weren't they?), consider taking the opportunity to really separate your data from the main Ubuntu installation. I'm sure there are a lot of people who, like me, were lazy with their first Ubuntu installation and shoved it all into one file system, thinking that they weren't going to keep it that long anyway, and now here they are still using it that way. This would be a good time to correct that.
Fourth, look carefully at the additional packages and programs that you have installed. Clean out the ones you don't need. If you have some which you installed from downloads, as I have for things like Opera, Gizmo, Picasa and such, they haven't been automatically updated by the Ubuntu Update Manager. This is a good time to check for a newer version, and if there is one remove the old version before you upgrade Ubuntu, then download and install the new version after the upgrade. In fact, check to see if your favorite package might have been picked up and included in the new release of Ubuntu, which would save you downloading and manually installing, and would get it included in automatic updates in the future.
Last, if you are going to install Ubuntu on a netbook or some other system with a very small screen, when you boot the LiveCD choose the "try Ubuntu without changes" option, instead of going directly to the "Install Ubuntu" option. Once it is booted, set auto-hide on both the upper and lower panels, by right-clicking on each of them, choose Properties, and then click auto-hide and OK. Then start the installation from the desktop icon. You'll be happy to have the little bit of extra screen space this gains you for the installation window.